KATRINA CROSBY WRITES – On May 24, 2017, Taiwan ignited a beacon of hope for the LGBT community in Asia as its Constitutional Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Currently, Taiwan is the first country in Asia to take such a stance.

The Court’s ruling was the first step towards officially legalizing same-sex marriage. The Court overturned the traditional definition of marriage stated in the Civil Code, which defined marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. The Court stated in a press release following the ruling that such a preference towards heterosexual couples “is incompatible with the spirit and meaning of the right to equality,” which is promised in Taiwan’s constitution.

The next step is for the Taiwanese parliament, the Legislative Yuan, to amend the law by either introducing a new civil partnership legislation or legalizing the marriage between same-sex couples. According to the new ruling, if the Legislative Yuan does not act within two years, same-sex couples will be allowed to register to marry.

Taiwan has been supportive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender expression in the past–hosting annual gay pride parades for years–but has not pursued marriage equality until now. During her successful 2016 election, Taiwan’s, Tsai Ing-wen, who was to become its first female president,  declared that “In the face of love, everyone is equal.”

So there has been plenty of talk of marriage equality, but no legitimate action until now.

It wasn’t until the court faced two petitions that it decided it needed to take legal action against the traditional interpretation of the Civil Code. The first petition was from Chi Chia-wei, a prominent figure and activists for gay rights who wanted to see legislative change. The second petition came from the city government of Taipei, where the capital was being sued for not accepting marriage applications from same-sex couples. With discontent rising amongst LGBT citizens, the Constitutional Court finally sensed the urgency to act immediately.

Nevertheless, a late start is better than nothing. Taiwan’s sudden decision to pursue marriage equality has started the conversation about the importance of LGBT rights within the rest of Asia. Wayne Lin, the Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association chair, made the elegant argument that “Taiwan can show that we are a country who cares about human rights–and we can show that LGBT rights isn’t something Western, it’s something for all Asian countries.”

On Weibo, mainland China’s own version of Twitter, Taiwan was the 8th highest trending topic, with one of the hashtags about the event receiving over 16 million views. Chinese LGBT activist and feminist Li Maizi shared the impact that this might have on China: “China and Taiwan speak a common language … This will inspire the LGBT movement’s push for gay marriage.” Currently, ­­the government of China does not allow civil unions or same-sex marriage, but given its proximity to Taiwan, one might hope that such progressive ideas might waft westward across the Taiwan strait — not to mention across the rest of the Asian continent.